Obit (Lat. obitus, a going down, i.e. to death, therefore decease), of an individual, is used in ecclesiastical language to designate the commemoration of a saint's death; called also his celebration, departure, falling asleep, or, if a martyr, his passion. The term is a contraction of the phrase "Obit mortem," i.e. he meets death, and is used specially to designate a funeral office performed for the dead, and for his soul's health, as they say, at certain times and places. The Assumption is ascribed to the blessed Virgin, the Deposition to St. John, from the tradition that he laid himself down in his grave.
It was an early practice of the primitive Church to commemorate the martyrs on the anniversary of their death; and when the days of persecution had come to an end the custom was extended, or continued to prevail in respect to others of the departed besides martyrs, such as relatives, friends, and benefactors. Indeed, in former times, under the influence of the Romish priesthood, it was not uncommon for dying persons, though they had children to provide for or debts to pay, to postpone all care of relatives and other considerations, in order to secure for themselves masses satisfactory, anniversaries, obits, requiems, dirges, placebos, tribunals, lamps, lights, and other offices to be performed daily, monthly, or yearly, as far as the sums left would afford, for the ease and help of the testator's soul. In "religious houses" they had a register, wherein they entered the obits or obitual days of their founders and benefactors, which was thence termed obituary. Thus in many colleges the obit or anniversary of the death of the founder is piously observed. There have been since the Reformation commemoration days at Oxford and Cambridge, on which the names of all the known benefactors to the universities are proclaimed and a special service is recited. For the offices used on the occasion of these commemorations in England, see the Annotated Book of Common Prayer. Appendix to the Burial Office.